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What Happened to the Mayans? The Mysterious Collapse of Classic Civilization

What Happened to the Mayans

What Happened to the Mayans

The southern Maya lowlands of Mesoamerica saw the decline of the Classic Maya civilisation between the 7th and the 9th century, as well as the abandonment of Maya cities. This is known as the “classic Maya collapse” in archaeology.

The Enigmatic Downfall of Classic Maya Civilization

One of archaeology’s biggest unanswered mysteries is the Classic “Maya collapse”. A Twitter user wrote, “We still don’t know why more than 2.0000.000 Mayan left all their cities.”

Palenque, Copán, Tikal and Calakmul were only a few of the southern lowlands’ urban centres that fell into disrepair in the eighth and ninth centuries before being abandoned.

The early Maya towns around 2,000 B.C. were located in southern Mexico and northern Central America. They are known as a civilization for their advanced calendars, hieroglyphic writing and prowess in fields like agriculture and architecture.

You can see the below tweet shared by a Twitter user in which you can see Mayan art vs Modern Microchips, Circuit boards or cities.

The Maya entered what is today referred to as the Classic Period around A.D. 250 when they built thriving cities with temples and palaces and reached their peak population. The southern lowlands region in modern-day northern Guatemala and surrounding areas of Mexico, Belize and Honduras was the centre of the Maya civilization at the time.

Still, nearly all significant cities had been abandoned by the end of the Classic Period, about A.D. 900. The fall is thought to have happened gradually, from place to place between the late 8th and 925. It didn’t happen all at once.


The Maya civilization ruled Central America for 1200 years. Maya cities reached a density of more than 2,000 people per square mile at its height of about 900 A.D., similar to present Los Angeles County. The Maya populated 200 to 400 square miles even in rural places.

However, all was silent at once and the eerie silence spoke to the collapse of the once-vibrant Maya society, one of the most significant demographic catastrophes in prehistoric human history.

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Navigating the Factors Behind Maya Civilization’s Decline

The decline of the Maya civilisation in the southern lowlands has been attributed to various factors including overcrowding, environmental deterioration, conflict, changing trade routes and protracted drought. A complicated triad of circumstances likely caused the collapse.


The Mayans did not vanish in the wake of the collapse; that much is evident. Instead, towns in the northern lowlands like Chichen Itza and later Mayapan (both in the modern Mexican state of Yucatan) became important. In the highlands, the Maya also built cities like Q’umarkaj (in modern-day Guatemala).

The final independent Mayan city, Nojpeten (in modern-day Guatemala) was conquered by Spanish forces in 1697 after the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors in the early 1500s.

The ancient towns were mainly forgotten until the 19th century when explorers and archaeologists began to unearth their ruins. The Maya still live in their ancestral countries in Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, Honduras and El Salvador.

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